Cricket match fixing: Who's pulling the strings?

By Dylan Cleaver

The latest instalment in cricket's match-fixing saga has revealed a power struggle, writes Dylan Cleaver

Image / Rod Emmerson
Image / Rod Emmerson

"I believe there are dark forces at play..."
Chris Cairns, author of the above statement, might have delivered not only the most memorable line of the sorry match-fixing saga to date, but also aptly described how the everyman would view the increasingly fraught, almost uniquely geo-political world of cricket governance.

Make no mistake, Cairns' role in what is undoubtedly the biggest sports scandal in New Zealand history will be played out in the full glare of the cameras -- but it is what is happening in the murky background, the "dark" places, that is arguably more important for the sport's future.

There is a battle for the control of cricket - including the now-maligned anti-corruption unit (ACSU) - which Cairns, Lou Vincent, Daryl Tuffey and any others implicated or investigated in this scandal, have unwittingly become pawns in.

Watch: Match fixing saga

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For them it is a matter of restoring, in Vincent's case, dignity, and, in Cairns' and Tuffey's, their integrity. For others it is a living demonstration of cricket governance becoming a fast-moving, highly political, soap opera.

That is why, in short, Vincent and New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum's confidential testimony was placed into the public domain last week -- in the forum where it would gain maximum impact (Vincent's ex-wife Elly Riley's testimony, while titillating, was nearly all based on hearsay and essentially far less important).

It was the Daily Mail and the Daily Telegraph in the United Kingdom, one a popular tabloid with the best-read news website in the world, the other a high-brow newspaper with a global reach* that sent the beleaguered International Cricket Council hurtling headlong into another investigation it would rather not be part of, a whodunnit of sorts.

"We are taking all steps available to us to urgently investigate how certain information in the form of statements has come to find its way into the media, so that we can provide reassurances to stakeholders within the sport so that they can continue to place their trust in the hands of the ACSU... in protecting the integrity of the sport," chief executive David Richardson said this week.

Watch: McCullum stands by testimony

Video

This has not gone down well in some quarters, with plenty believing the ICC is merely deflecting; using outrage over the leak to take the heat off the painfully slow investigation into what we could now call the "New Zealand Problem".

Writing in the Daily Mail, cricket correspondent Paul Newman fired a broadside at Richardson, calling him an "invisible" chief executive when it mattered.

"[When Richardson] finally spoke about the latest crisis gripping the game this week, his words were revealing.

"This was not, as you might expect, recognition of the gravity of the issues enveloping Chris Cairns and Lou Vincent and a clear statement of the action that the ICC will soon take on the guilty players involved in match- and spot-fixing in numerous countries.

"Instead, Richardson's 'interview' with his own employers seemed intent solely on launching a 'thorough investigation' into how the testimony of New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum came into the public domain," Newman wrote.

But for others, the leak cuts to the heart of cricket's problems: politics and petty point-scoring taking priority over progress.

Watch: Cairns named as 'player X'

Video

So far, myriad scenarios as to who placed the stories have been raised, the most popular being:

• Lalit Modi
• The ACSU itself
• A member board.

Each would have their own reasons to do so. Each could gain significantly, yet there are significant drawbacks for at least two of them.

Modi, the former chief of Indian cricket's governing body (BCCI) is an intriguing, yet unlikely possibility.

He, of course, famously lost a defamation case against Cairns in the high Court of London, lost his control of Indian Cricket, including the cash-cow IPL, and was bankrupted.

His hatred of Cairns and the BCCI's suspended president N. Srinivasan, knows no bounds.

Yesterday, he printed six pages of a letter outlining Srinivasan's violation of the ICC's code of ethics. Earlier he posted on twitter: "Now we know. ICC is an organisation run by fixers and love them to take me to court for liable. I challenge you to do so. Game on boys".

If this were a Shakespeare tragedy, then he's the perfect fit, plotting and calculating his way back to power.

Yet there have to be doubts as to whether he'd have access to the anti-corruption testimony. Also, if he wants to rehabilitate himself into the upper echelons of cricket, destroying the trust of those he would have to work with would be a curious tactic.

At the time of writing, Modi had not replied to an email outlining the rumour that he is involved and asking him his thoughts on where the leak came from.

The ACSU has emerged as the most popular choice and, it seems, the most wrong. Perceived wisdom is that the ACSU, chaired by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, is under threat from the Big Three -- England, India and Australia -- who want more control over anti-corruption matters.

The ACSU costs too much money and lacks results (anti-corruption's biggest win, the jailing of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir, followed a fix in a Pakistan-England test match revealed by a newspaper sting).

This testimony, the theory went, would prove what an effective drill-down operation the ACSU was.

There are two major flaws with this argument. The ACSU has the most to lose from these stories. Their effectiveness is predicated on the idea that people come to them in confidence. Second, the leak could jeopardise the current investigation itself.

"I have confidence in the ICC anti-corruption unit. There are professional people involved. They have always operated independently of the politics in world cricket," New Zealand Players' Association boss Heath Mills told the Herald.

"With regards to the documents being in the public domain, my principal concern lies with who the ACSU were forced to share these statements within recent weeks."

One of the member boards who had the documents -- with England and India heading the list.

This is simply a power struggle. They not only want control of the ICC -- which member boards such as New Zealand Cricket have effectively given them licence to -- they want control of the independent anti-corruption unit.

"It's not the way forward; all that's doing is making anti-corruption operate under the same structure as ICC members do currently, where everyone wants to have sovereignty and be masters of their own domain.

"Just like most decisions we see coming out of the ICC, we're then making anti-corruption work political and subject to potential interference."

It is in this world that Vincent et al are going to see their cases played out. They will become supporting actors only in a much bigger drama.

Cairns might be right.

While no defence for the acts he is alleged to have carried out as Player X, there are, in this beautiful yet chaotic sport, dark forces at play.


* The Herald has syndication rights to both organisations.

- NZ Herald

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